MINE-MILL: MILITANT ADVOCATE FOR RACIAL EQUALITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE (Continued)
SALT OF THE EARTH -- AND JUAN CHACON [HUNTER GRAY / HUNTER BEAR / JOHN R SALTER JR.]
I showed Salt of the Earth countless times in countless organizing campaigns [including in Mississippi] from the 1950s onward. I still show it today. During the Red Scare period, the FBI and other witch-hunters made every effort to prevent our showing the film -- kept some newspapers from carrying our ads, got some meeting halls cancelled out from under us, broke into my car once (the film wasn't there) -- but we always persevered and continued showing Salt to large audiences. We showed it in union halls, churches, colleges and universities, other meeting halls.
have seen it at least 300 times -- having
shown it extensively throughout the Southwest, Minnesota and
Wisconsin, Mississippi and other Deep South settings, Northern New England,
Seattle, Iowa, Chicago, Up-State New York, and extensively in Navajoland and the
Northern Plains and now in Idaho. [And a few other places as well.]
Although many of the Navajo viewers knew no English at all, and some translation
was required, the vivid reality of the film is such that the basic progression
of events is readily understood by non English-speakers. [In
off-reservation border town settings, e.g., Gallup and Farmington and Winslow
and Flagstaff and Blanding, the Navajo people certainly have plenty of
experience with many of the discrimination issues handled so well in Salt of
Cruelly blacklisted in virtually all commercial theatres throughout the United States, Salt played successfully to huge audiences all over the world -- year after year: e.g., Canada, Mexico, Great Britain, USSR and a hundred other places! This is taken from a very large [25.5 inches by 37 inches] and really excellently done 1957 Salt poster from the Soviet Union. The artist is Tutrumov. Mine-Mill leader Juan Chacon is at the fore -- with the backdrop of determined, picketing miners' wives. I own this now extremely rare great poster.
I always showed Salt to my classes. I used versions of these notes for years at University of North Dakota -- as I have everywhere else over the decades. This set of my notes is ca. 1985 to reflect Salt's just out availability in video cassette. After that very positive development occurred, I've always provided students and many others as well with info on where to purchase the film. It's readily available today.
Despite the intensive and venomous United States black-list, Salt won a great many top film awards from all over the world. Several years after Juan Chacon's death in February 1985 at age 65, New Mexico Western University at Silver City named a building in his honor. Recently, the Library of Congress picked Salt of the Earth as one of the 100 most important films ever made in the United States: one which must definitely be preserved forever.
Speaking in 1982, Juan Chacon discussed the extremely substantial challenges faced in the 1950s by Mexican-Americans and militant unionists in Southwestern New Mexico [among many other settings]. "Working conditions [health and safety] for Hispanic people were very bad. There were separate change rooms and lunch rooms for employees. Mexicans had to use a separate bathroom and had to stand in their own payroll line when picking up their checks. At that time, it was pretty rough for us."
At Juan Chacon's Funeral Mass, Father Benito Suen spoke very extensively of the dedicated radical activist's role in the fight for militant, democratic unionism; in the struggle for human rights for the Chicano people; and in the battle for bi-lingual education.
Vigorously encouraging the very large number of attendees at the Mass to remember and continue Juan Chacon's fighting legacy, Father Suen said, "Life is always a struggle and it is this kind of struggle that advances the society."
Among the others who spoke extensively on the great meaning of Juan Chacon's life was Roy Santa Cruz, another militant Southwestern unionist and human rights fighter, who had played a leading role in organizing and guiding the old Mine-Mill Local 938 at Superior, Arizona.
Following my Salt notes, is a reflective piece of mine, posted 11/25/01: Salt of the Earth -- and Juan Chacon's Good Words.
Salt of the Earth -- and Juan Chacon's Good Words [HG 11/25/01]
I've been involved this past day or so on the edges of
college research paper being developed by my youngest offspring. She is
almost 22 years old -- still here with us -- and is doing her developing
sociological theory paper as a Marxist analysis of a film. In this case, of
course, she has chosen one with which she and the
other kids [a very wide age range indeed] grew up: the very excellent
labor film, Salt of the Earth. As at least many on this List are aware, a Marxist
analysis of Salt of the Earth is not in itself exactly formidable and
overwhelming -- given the great class conflict on which it is so accurately
based. But, in view of my own background and the fact that she was born in
New Mexico -- home country for "Salt" and the October, 1950 into January,
1952 Mine-Mill strike of predominately Mexican-American zinc miners and
their families whose great epic story the films tells so very well -- she wants to
do a thorough job. And, so far, 18 pages from her -- and still going. Now
who ever said we Native folk are short on words?
I'm now reprinting a post that I made many, many weeks ago -- and which most on our RedBadBear list have not seen. This very much involves Salt of the Earth and the old Mine-Mill union -- and very much some excellent words by a key Mine-Mill local leader who was also the male lead in Salt of the
Earth. Juan Chacon's background and work -- and his excellent words -- are
fine guidelines for the great challenges that we all face today.
On another note: This post begins with a weirdly hostile message to me "
WILL YOU FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP. who cares. You are a sick person
At that time, I saw no point in identifying the husband and wife who had
sent this -- though I knew them to be on the SNCC list [to which I
subsequently posted this piece on "Salt" and Juan Chacon.]
But the people who sent this also posted on SNCC, yesterday or so, one of
the few expressions of support for Mendy Samstein's virulent and totally
undeserved attack on Ed Whitfield. As you know, I made my own very sharp
and blunt and forceful rebuttal to that denigrating thrust -- attacking,
among other things, the whole sorry business of Red-baiting. If you missed
my comments on that, here it is from a couple of days
And here is my post on Salt, Mine-Mill, Juan Chacon, and stubborn and
enduring courage in the face of great odds. And, by all means, if you
haven't seen Salt of the Earth -- do! It's widely available today on video
From Hunter Gray [Hunterbear] [formerly John R Salter, Jr] This was a
latter-September -01 post.
An e-mail came last night from the names of a man and woman unknown to me.
The subject line was STOP STOP STOP -- and the message was short and
WILL YOU FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP. who cares. You are a sick person
Good taste rules out any response -- facetious or otherwise -- seeking more
specific info. Clearly, someone's coming apart and I see no point in
contributing to the process.
Although this expression of desperation carries contradictory
implications, it's not hard at all to see sensitivity under all of this --
but a sensitivity caught up in the maelstrom of high, strong winds and
blinding fog coming in from all sides. The result here is obvious
It may sound supercilious but this is simply another victim -- no more, no
less. Other victims, at least for the moment, are some of the civil
liberties and environmental and mainline labor groups that are currently
stopped in their tracks, or pulling back -- silent. Or, some [not all!]
social justice groups whose statements are devoted in the main to the
self-evident hideous nature of the September 11 tragedy, with the rest
spent on a call to apprehend and punish the guilty -- and maybe, maybe a
faint and carefully tangled sentence or two on the threats to domestic civil
liberty and to persons of Mid-Eastern background.
For the rest of us, and we are many indeed, the high mountains of challenge
lie directly ahead -- as they always do. And no matter how many we transcend
, there's always another high range beyond.
Everyone of us reading this, no matter one's age, has been through
challenging crucibles with hard lessons -- emerging ever more sensibly
I remember an old friend, the late Juan Chacon of Grant County, New Mexico,
in the southwestern part of the state [Silver City and environs.] A veteran
metal miner, he was one of a number of militantly committed and effective
radical activists in that well-known Mine-Mill local -- Amalgamated Bayard
District Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers: Local 890 of the
hard-fighting and very Left International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter
Workers. [ IUMMSW was formerly the Western Federation of Miners and, in
1905, the prime founder of the Industrial Workers of the World.]
Juan Chacon had gone through no end of social justice fights from the moment
he was hatched. Among his many battle stripes was that of the male lead in
the extraordinarily fine film, Salt of the Earth, ostensibly in a fictional
mode but based closely on the long and bitter Mine-Mill strike of
predominately Mexican-American miners and their families against Empire Zinc
at Hanover, NM -- which lasted from October 1950 to January, 1952. In this
hard-fought campaign, following a court injunction prohibiting miners from
picketing, their wives took over the picket line and played a key role in
carrying the struggle to victory.
"Salt," this great human rights film -- worker rights, racial equality,
women's rights --filmed on location and with most of the acting done by
local people, was made in the face of extreme Red-baiting and other attacks
from the mining bosses, House Un-American Activities Committee, Joe
McCarthy, and a gaggle of local New Mexico politicos -- and by open
violence from local racist and right-wing "vigilantes" -- thugs.
But the film was made and completed and won rave reviews even from mortal
enemies. TIME -- however grudgingly: " . . .the film within the
propagandistic limits it sets is a work of vigorous art. It is crowded with
grindingly effective scenes, through which the passion of social anger
hisses in a hot wind; and truth and lies are driven before it like sand. .
.The passion carries the actors along too in its gale. The workers, actual
miners of the New Mexico local, carry conviction in their savage setting as
trained actors could never do. The best of the worker-players is Juan
Chacon, real-life president of the local union. Ugly and cold as an Aztec
amulet, his heavy face comes slowly to life and warmth as the picture
advances and in the end seems almost radiant."
Salt also took major international film awards -- even as it was
systematically black-listed in every commercial movie house in the United
States. Very recently, it was picked by the Library of Congress as one of
the 100 most important films ever made in this country. Long before that,
several years after his death a decade and a half ago, New Mexico Western
University named a building in honor of Juan Chacon. [And Salt is now widely
available on the Net -- if you haven't seen this great homegrown radical
work of art, Do!]
But let's jump back to the bitter fall of 1959. Copper workers were out on
a massive industry-wide strike from Butte, Montana to the Mexican border --
and in some other settings as well -- led by Mine-Mill. At the same time,
in a cruel, calculated, and extremely revealing move, long-dormant
indictments were activated by the United States government against key
Mine-Mill leaders -- who were then, concurrently with the strike, brought to
trial in Denver on the trumped-up phony charges of "conspiring to defraud"
the Government vis-a-vis non-Communist affidavits required by the viciously
anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act. Thus, Mine-Mill was not only embroiled in a
huge fight against the powerful copper bosses -- Anaconda, Phelps-Dodge,
Kennecott, Magma, and American Smelting and Refining -- but had much of the
top International leadership tied up in Federal court in Denver in a
Kafkaesque proceeding involving a variety of seamy, paid FBI informers and
various mining company sycophants.
I was a grad student, then, at ASU -- but, much more importantly, was
coordinating a large-scale effort in central Arizona focused on raising
miners' relief [food and money] and labor defense funds with respect to the
"conspiracy" trial. In our setting, as in comparable ones elsewhere in this
great multi-faceted struggle, we were met by constant Red-Baiting [I was
tagged on the front page of the leading newspaper, Arizona Republic, as
"young Mr. S., the head of the Arizona state Communist Party." [Note No
CPUSA organization existed anywhere in Arizona by that time.] The Goldwater
atmosphere was almost strangling, the Birchers were growing rapidly, and
Phoenix alone had 100 "Anti-Communist Leagues." As part of our intensive
miners relief / labor defense effort, we were showing Salt of the Earth --
in union halls, community centers, some Catholic parish halls, university
settings etc -- and the FBI was working in an increasingly open fashion to
try, generally without success, to get these places closed to us. We were
attacked by thugs and our homes and cars were broken into.
We kept going. At one point in the middle of all of this, Juan Chacon sent
me a warm, personal Western Union telegram from New Mexico which concluded with, "Success will be ours in the long run." I've always remembered those words -- and I've carried them with me wherever I've gone: off to Mississippi and far, far beyond. Right to the present moment.
The copper workers -- led by Mine-Mill -- won the Great Strike early in
1960. Eventually, even though the Mine-Mill leaders were convicted at Denver in an atmosphere of extreme fear and hysteria, those cases -- and all the other
anti-Mine-Mill Federal witch-hunting cases -- were eventually won in the
higher courts. [But the financial cost to the Union was very heavy.] If
interested, see this page from a long 1960 article of mine,"IUMM&SW: The
Good, Tough Fight" [under my former name of John R. Salter, Jr] which I've
reproduced on our website and which has also some up-dating notes on the
Mine-Mill legal cases and related matters.
So, when I get something like
WILL YOU FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP. who cares. You are a sick person
I shrug, remember Juan and his fighting words -- and all of the other good
things I've heard and learned along the trail we're all continuing to blaze.
Keep fighting. Keep moving ahead. Keep fighting.
And -- any reactions from anyone reading this?
In Solidarity -
Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear] [formerly John R Salter, Jr]
NOTE BY HUNTER BEAR: APRIL 16 2006
selected for the Juan Chacon Collection at Western N.M. Univ.]
This is apropos of the book discussion that may be beginning on the
Redbadbear list. [But first, let me add off-topic -- I have just listened to
yet another news report -- that I never blame any Bear of any kind in
clashes with humans. It's possible that the sad event in Tennessee may have
involved a bear with nearby cubs.]
Juan Chacon [1919-1985] was a major leader for many decades of the copper
and zinc workers in Southwestern New Mexico -- and a nationally known
Chicano leader as well. And, of course, he is remembered by many indeed on
a global basis as the male lead -- picket captain Ramon Quintero -- in the
timeless film, Salt of the Earth. After his passing, Salt was picked by the
Library of Congress as one of the most important films ever made in this
country. New Mexico Western named a major building on its campus in his
honor -- and established a Juan Chacon Collection.
The following are the thirty books picked by Mrs Virginia Chacon from his
personal library for the book portion of the Collection:
Western New Mexico University
Juan Chacón Collection
List of Materials Donated
by Virginia Chacón
May 15, 1995
Babcox, Deborah. Liberation Now! Writings from the Women's Liberation
Movement. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1971.
Boyer, Richard O. Labor's Untold Story. New York: United Electrical, Radio &
Machine Workers of America, 1972.
DeCaux, Len. Labor Radical: From the Wobblies to CIO. Boston: Beacon Press,
DeMaio, Ernest. Words for Workers in Changing Times. Salem, MA: Deschamps
Printing Co., 1993.
Foster, William Z. American Trade Unionism: Principles, Organization,
Strategy, Tactics. New York: International Publishers, 1947.
Foster, William Z. Pages from a Worker's Life. New York: International
Four Hundred Fifty Years of Chicano History in Pictures. Albuquerque, NM:
Chicano Communications Center, 1976.
Green, Gil. What's Happening to Labor. New York: International Publishers,
Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. New York: Signet Books, 1961.
Haywood, Harry. Black Bolshevik: Autobiography of an Afro-American
Communist. Chicago: Liberator Press, 1978.
Haywood, William D. Autobiography of "Big Bill" Haywood. New York:
International Publishers, 1958.
Keller, John F. Power in America: The Southern Question and the Control of
Labor. Chicago: Vanguard Books, 1983.
Kushner, Sam. Long Road to Delano. New York: International Publishers, 1975.
Matusow, Harvey. False Witness. New York: Cameron & Kahn Publishers, 1955.
McWilliams, Carey. North from Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the
United States. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.
Meltzer, Milton. The Hispanic Americans. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1982.
Mills, C. Wright. Listen, Yankee: The Revolution in Cuba. New York:
Ballantine Books, 1960.
Morris, George. Rebellion in the Unions: A Handbook for Rank and File
Action. New York: New Outlook Publishers, 1971.
Mortimer, Wyndham. Organize!: My Life as a Union Man. Boston: Beacon Press,
O'Connor, Harvey. The Empire of Oil. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1955.
Patterson, William L., ed. We Charge Genocide: The Historic Petition to the
United Nations for Relief from a Crime of the United States Government
against the Negro People. New York: International Publishers, 1951.
Reich, Charles A. The Greening of America. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.
Robert, Henry M. Robert's Rules of Order. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Spire
Rodriguez, Olga, ed. The Politics of Chicano Liberation. New York:
Pathfinder Press, 1977.
Rosenberg, Ethel and Julius. The Testament of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.
New York: Cameron & Kahn, 1954.
Rozauskas, E., ed. Documents Accuse. Vilnius: Gintaras, 1970.
Salter, John R., Jr. Jackson, Mississippi: An American Chronicle of Struggle
and Schism. Hicksville, New York: Exposition Press, 1979.
Sánchez, David, Expedition through Aztlan. La Puente, California:
Perspective Publications, 1978.
Stellman, Jeanne M. Work Is Dangerous to Your Health: A Handbook of Health
Hazards in the Workplace and What You Can Do about Them. New York: Vintage
Winston, Henry. Strategy for a Black Agenda: A Critique of New Theories of
Liberation in the United States of America. New York: International
Full listing of other material in the Juan Chacon Collection:
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Mi'kmaq /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
Honored with The Elder Recognition Award by Wordcraft Circle of Native
Writers and Storytellers:
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings. Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear]
Continued On The Next Page